Do charter schools serve their fair share of English Language Learners? It’s not a new question, and across the country, answers have sometimes been hard to get.
In Indiana, data suggest the answer is: Not yet. At least that appears to be the case in urban areas, where most charters are located and where public school districts tend to enroll the most ELL students.
Using 2012-13 figures, the latest available on the Indiana Department of Education website, we get the following for ELL enrollment:
Indianapolis Public Schools attendance district:
- IPS schools – 13.5 percent
- Charter schools – 8.2 percent
Marion County, including IPS and the Indianapolis township schools:
- District schools – 12 percent
- Charter schools – 7.6 percent
Lake County(some of which isn’t urban):
- District schools – 5.8 percent
- Charter schools – 3.7 percent
These data don’t include Indy charter schools that opened last fall, two of which — Enlace Academy and Excel Center at Lafayette Square — have high ELL enrollment. With data from Brandon Brown, director of charter schools for the Indianapolis mayor’s office, here are more up-to-date figures:
- IPS schools (2012-13 data) – 13.5 percent
- Charter schools (including 2013-14 data) – 9.3 percent
Brown said the initial priority for siting Indianapolis charter schools was in the largely African-American downtown and eastside neighborhoods, where the need was perceived to be greatest. As a result, there are fewer charter schools in areas with many ELL students. Some charter schools in immigrant neighborhoods, such as Christel House Academy and Padua Academy, do have high ELL numbers.
“When comparing IPS schools and charter schools within similar neighborhoods, you will find similar ELL enrollments regardless of school-type,” Brown said by email.
Among the Indianapolis school districts with the highest percentages of ELL students, there’s one charter school in Washington Township and there are none in Perry, Pike and Wayne townships.
Still, the idea that charter schools may be behind the curve when it comes to serving immigrant children isn’t unique to Indiana. Macke Raymond, director of the CREDO research center at Stanford, spoke last week at Indiana University about her nationwide charter-school studies. She said charter schools serve more poor and black students but fewer ELL students than their “feeder schools.”
We don’t know, however, if the ELL data are complete. The U.S. Government Accountability Office tried last summer to determine how many ELL students attended charter schools but gave up, because “for over one-third of charter schools, the field for reporting the counts of ELLs enrolled in ELL programs was left blank.” The GAO said the blanks may or may not mean the schools had no ELL students.
A little background: I waded into this topic as a result of comments on a post about test scores in high-poverty charter and traditional public schools. Someone suggested comparing high-poverty charters with high-poverty urban district schools. So I did. One interesting result was that urban district schools did better in math than in reading, but charter schools did as well in reading as math.
Which led to the ELL question. But more on test scores later.